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A parent’s guide to child support payments while going through a separation

Written by Pearsons Lawyers
22 November 2022

In Australia, parents have an obligation to financially support their child. This obligation is not changed by:
1. A separation and/or a divorce.
2. Where the child lives or the amount of time they spend with a parent.
3. The re-marriage of one or both parents.

In the context of a separation and/or divorce, one parent will be paying child support, and the other parent will be receiving child support.

It is usually in everybody’s best interests foremost the child for both parents to come to an amicable agreement with respect to the amount of child support one parent will pay to the other.

Having a private child support agreement without involvement from the State is often less stressful, provides greater financial certainty, and is more flexible, as that agreement can include, in addition to, or in the alternative to, monetary periodic or non-periodic payments, things like payment of school fees, uniforms, health insurances, and so on.

If you are seeking to enter into a binding child support agreement with your former spouse, or if you would like to discuss this aspect further, get in touch with us on 1300 699 688 to speak with one of our expert family lawyers, and book a free consultation to discuss your situation.

However, if you cannot agree on the amount or type of child support to be paid/provided with your former partner, or if your former partner is refusing to financially contribute towards your child, or if he/she simply does not want to enter into a private child support agreement with you, then you will need to obtain a child support assessment through Australia’s child support scheme.

The Australian Child Support Scheme

The purpose of State administered child support in Australia is to ensure, in the famous words of the late Bob Hawke, who was a prominent member in the introduction of Australia’s child support scheme in the late 1980s, “No Australian child [shall] live in poverty”.

In more general terms, child support is designed to maintain a child’s living standard and ensure all their basic needs are covered, including but not limited to shelter, food and basic necessities. It is also designed to ensure both parents continue to meet their obligation to financially support their child after they have separated and/or divorced.

The Child Support Agency was the federal organisation that administered the assessment and collection of child support under the Australian Government’s Child Support Scheme until 2011, when the agency ceased to exist, and when child support become one of the master programs of the Australian Government umbrella department “Services Australia”.

The assessment, registration and collection of child support liabilities is now administered under the current legislative framework by the sub-department “The Department of Human Services (Child Support)” (“the DHSCS”).

Nevertheless, the colloquial term “Child Support Agency” and associated initialism “CSA”, are commonly used by some people, solicitors and judges included, purely as a habit following the cessation of the agency in 2011, and as a means of simplification.

How Is Child Support Calculated?

Child support is calculated using an extremely complex formula provided by the DHSCS.

In a nutshell, each parent’s income, expenses and the amount of care each parent provides to the child is looked at.

First, the DHSCS will examine each parent’s “child support income”. This is each parent’s taxable income minus what he or she needs to support him or herself.

Each parent’s child support income is then added together to determine how much total child support is available from both parents combined.

Each parent’s individual child support income is then divided by their total child support income combined to determine what percentage of each parent’s taxable income should go towards child support. This is called the “income percentage”.

Secondly, the DHSCS will examine each parent’s care for the child on a per-annum basis.

The parent with whom the child resides with more based on the number of nights the child spends with each parent per annum is entitled to pay less child support.

This is called the “care percentage”, and is used to determine how much that care costs in actual dollar terms.

The DHSCS has a fixed chart to determine this, which can be found here.

How much that care costs in actual dollar terms is defined as a percentage, which is called the “cost percentage”.

The cost percentage for each parent is then subtracted from each parent’s income percentage. If the result is a negative number, then that indicates that parent is entitled to child support.

If the result is a positive number, then that indicates that parent will be responsible for paying child support.

Thirdly, the DHSCS will then look at the actual cost for each child, which is based on the parent’s combined child support income, the number of children and their ages. The DHSCS has a fixed chart to determine this, which is updated each year.

Finally, the child support percentage of the parent with the positive percentage is multiplied by the costs of the child. This is the final amount to be paid.”

Below is a clear and comprehensive example found on the DHSCS website which demonstrates how the process works:

M and F have three children, A aged 9, B aged 7, and C aged 5, who live mostly with
M. The children spend 75 nights a year with F, who has regular care of the children. M has an adjusted taxable income of $30 000 and F has an adjusted taxable income of

Step 1: Work out each parent’s child support income by deducting the self-support amount of $18,252 from their adjusted taxable income.
M has a child support income of $11,748 ($30,000 less $18,252) F has a child support income of $31,748 ($50,000 less $18,252)

Step 2: Work out the parents’ combined child support income.
$11,748 + $31,748 = $43,496

Step 3: Work out each parent’s income percentage.
M = $11,748 ÷ $43,496 x 100 = 27.01% F = $31,748 ÷ $43,496 x 100 = 72.99%

Step 4: Work out each parent’s percentage of care for each child.
M has care of all the children for 290 nights, 79.45% of the nights, rounded to a care percentage of 80%.
F has care of all the children for 75 nights, 20.55% of the nights, rounded to a care percentage of 20%.

Step 5: Work out each parent’s cost percentage for each child by looking up the table in section 55C.
M has a cost percentage of 76% F has a cost percentage of 24%
(Note: a percentage of care is calculated for each child. As the care arrangements for these children are the same, the percentage is the same for all the children. If there are different care arrangements for different children, then they will have different percentages of care).

Step 6: Work out each parent’s child support percentage for each child by subtracting their cost percentage for that child from their income percentage. As the care arrangements are the same for all the children we will show the one percentage that is used for all the children.
M = 27.01% – 76% = -48.99%
F = 72.99% – 24% = 48.99%
(This means that F is responsible for 72.99% of the children’s costs because they have 72.99% of the combined child support income. As F meets only 24% of the costs through care they need to transfer 48.99% of the costs to M through child support.)

Step 7: Work out the costs of each child.
The combined child support income is $43,496.
From the 2012 Costs of Children Table the total costs of the children (three children 12 or under) =
$8,757 + ($0.26 for every $ over $32,433)
$8,757 + ($43,496 – $32,433 = $11,063 x $0.26 = $2,876)
Therefore: $8,757 + $2,876 = $11,633
The cost of each child = $11,633 ÷ 3 = $3,878

Step 8: Work out the annual rate of child support payable by the parent with a positive child support percentage.
48.99% x $3,878 = $1,900
$1,900 x 3 (children) = $5,700
F is liable to pay M child support of $5,700 (annual rate).

What Happens Then?

Once a child support assessment is made, the eligible parent, being the parent who is entitled to child support, can apply to “opt-into” the scheme.

This means that the DHSCS will collect child support on your behalf, per week, fortnight, month or year. The paying parent chooses how often they wish to pay.

The paying parent can also choose the method of payment, whether by electronic funds transfer to the DHSCS, cheque or by garnish of their wages and/or some other source of income they may receive.

In this way, the DHSCS acts as a “middleman” by collecting and transferring to the eligible parent their child support payments.

What If There Are Issues/Disputes?

If the paying parent refuses to pay child support as administratively assessed, the eligible parent can apply to enforce collection.”

“Commonly, this will involve the DHSCS garnishing the paying parent’s wages. There are other methods of enforcement.

The benefit of “opting-into” the scheme is that there are internal mechanisms set up within the DHSCS where either parent can apply to have the DHSCS review and, if necessary, amend, the assessment, based on, for example, salary increases or decreases of the paying parent, and/or other factors the aggrieved parent believes ought to be taken into consideration.

The DHHS can also chase up the paying parent if they are falling behind with their child support payments and/or are not paying on time and/or in full and/or are failing/refusing to lodge updated taxation returns.

Are Lawyers Involved?

The whole child support system is set up so that lawyers do not get involved.

Even if at the end of an internal review and/or re-assessment process one of the parents is still aggrieved, they can apply to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (without lawyers) to have them investigate and look at the situation afresh.

When lawyers do become involved is when matters concerning child support come before the Family Court (“Court”).

However, the avenues to go to Court for child support-related matters are extremely limited.

They are limited to cases where there are already proceedings on foot for parenting and/or property matters in which case one parent can also ask the Court to deal with child support matters.

These are called “departure applications”, where one parent seeks to depart from the administrative child support assessment in lieu of a higher child support payment or a non- periodic child support payment, or another means of child support, for example, private school fees.

The other avenue involves circumstances where there are questions of law, which are extremely rare.

When Do I Stop Paying Child Support in Australia?

Normally, the responsibility for child support stops when your child turns 18 years of age.

However, you can apply to extend the child support assessment to the end of the school year (if your child has turned 18 during their final year of school), and you can negotiate with the other parent a new agreement before your child turns 18 to continue child support. Only the parent who receives child support can apply to extend the assessment.

Otherwise, either parent, or the adult child themselves, can apply to the Court for what is called an “adult child maintenance” order against the other parent in order for that adult child to continue receiving support in circumstances where that adult child is, for example, working part-time or looking for work, in which case the Court will take into account any study commitments they may have, illnesses or disabilities, personal/work skills and/or the availability of part-time work. These types of applications are extremely rare, and difficult to succeed in. “Adult child maintenance” is discussed in another article on our webpage.

If you would like to discuss any aspects of this article further, or if you would like advice on child support generally and what options are available to you, get in touch with us on 1300 699 688 to speak with one of our expert family lawyers, and book a free consultation to discuss your situation.

Pearsons Family Lawyers

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